Australia fashion week 2018: five labels making their debuts on the catwalk
Beginning this Sunday, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia 2018 will see I.Am.Gia, Leo + Lin, Acler, Client Liaison and Chris Ran Lin all making their first big catwalk splashes
Emerging labels are the lifeblood of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, the 23rd edition of which runs from May 13 to 18 at Sydney’s Carriageworks multi-arts centre.
While it’s great to see the big names of Australian fashion on the event’s catwalks, many labels that rose to prominence thanks to the event have gone on to grow internationally and now dedicate their marketing budgets to fashion weeks in New York, London or Paris.
Names like Dion Lee, Sass & Bide, Alice McCall, Ksubi – all major players now – were virtually unknown before they showed in Sydney. That’s why every year, buyers from across the globe make the trek down under, looking for Australia’s Next Big Things.
Over 90 designers will present their resort 2019 collections at this year’s event. They will do so in either solo or group shows, or at the on-site showroom facility called The Suites, which has doubled in size since its inception last year thanks to demand from designers.
The biggest names at this year’s event include Camilla and Marc, which is opening the event on May 13, and the totally unrelated Camilla, which is closing the trade component of the week on May 18 – before it extends into the consumer-focused Mercedes-Benz Fashion Weekend.
Other labels on show include Alice McCall, Christopher Esber, Ten Pieces, Akira, Double Rainbouu, Romance Was Born, Anna Quan, New Zealand’s Karen Walker, and the London-based Still Still Studio and Emilia Wickstead.
There is definitely a different breed of newcomer this year, thanks to the power of Instagram, industry connections, pop-culture kudos and Chinese money. Here are five labels to look out for that will be making their runway debuts at the event.
Launched by Alana Pallister in May 2017 as an offshoot of her and her sister Stevie Cox’s 11 year-old fast-fashion line Tiger Mist, I.Am.Gia will be exactly a year old when it makes its runway debut on May 16.
The Melbourne-based brand, however, is already well known to the international fashion media, thanks to coverage in US Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, Glamour and even Forbes.
Named after Gia Carangi, a 1980s supermodel and wild child turned heroin addict, I.Am.Gia has notched up over 500,000 Instagram followers and has an army of model and celebrity fans (which Pallister refers to as the “Gia Army”). From Selena Gomez to Kaia Gerber, Emily Ratajkowski to Christina Aguilera, they have all been photographed in the brand’s eclectic attire, a cross between music festival babe and street punk.
I.Am.Gia pumps out 30 new pieces a month at a deliberately low price point of under US$200. Products run the gamut from sexy snakeskin print or PVC trousers to zipped miniskirts, motocross pants, logo hoodies and the bestselling faux shearling “Pixie” coat.
The I.Am.Gia celebrity train was set in motion just a month after the brand’s launch, when Bella Hadid’s stylist Elizabeth Sulcer spotted it on Instagram and requested some products for Hadid to wear to Paris’ haute couture week.
Hadid was subsequently snapped in the label’s tan “Cobain” cargo pants and yellow check “Keidis” crop top. Afterwards, Pallister was swamped with Instagram direct message requests for more of her products.
Leo + Lin
A lot of cash-strapped Australian labels might find it impossible to scratch up the funds – up to A$100,000 (US$75,000) – needed to stage a solo catwalk show at fashion week. This is evidently not a problem, however, for newcomer Leo Lin, the 28 year-old Melbourne-based founder and creative director of fledgling luxury label Leo + Lin, which will be making its debut at the event on May 17.
The show will be Lin’s second major presentation since August 3 last year, when he unveiled his cocktail and evening wear line at an intimate VIP dinner presentation at Melbourne’s posh George Ballroom.
Lin was born in Dalian in China and has a bachelor's degree in business and commerce from Monash University in Melbourne. He founded Leo + Lin in 2015, tapping Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) graduate Zedd Luk as his head designer.
The label is mostly sold direct to consumers from the Leo + Lin web store or at its large private Melbourne showroom, which comes complete with a photo studio. Prices range from A$100 for a top to the high four figures for an embellished evening gown.
Chris Ran Lin
Born in Guangdong in China and based in Melbourne, Chris Ran Lin apparently does not yet have the funds to mount a solo show in Sydney, but what he lacks in marketing budget he more than makes up for in fashion cred.
Noted for his conceptual men’s knitwear – which he primarily sells directly to clients – the RMIT graduate will have some of the best credentials of participants in fashion week’s “NextGen” emerging designer showcase on May 16.
After launching his label in 2013, Lin was selected as an Australia/New Zealand regional nominee for the prestigious International Woolmark Prize for two consecutive years in 2016 and 2017. He was also a finalist for Australia’s 2018 National Designer Award.
In June last year, Lin travelled to Florence as a representative of one of eight emerging menswear labels selected to take part in the “Guest Nation Australia” showcase at Pitti Uomo. Later in the year he also designed an exclusive capsule collection of both womenswear and menswear for Lane Crawford.
At last year’s event, Adelaide duo Kathryn Forth and Julia Ritorto staged a small, off-schedule lunch presentation of their Acler collection. On May 16 they will make their catwalk debut.
Another emerging Australian womenswear label that has seemingly become an overnight sensation, Acler offers high-fashion-looking pieces at accessible price points – a growing market segment that has been dubbed “advanced contemporary”.
Aimed at women aged 25 to 50, the label is known for its shirting, tailoring, and tops and dresses with intricate surface detailing.
Forth and Ritorto were no industry newbies when they launched the label in 2014, originally under the name Cellophane (it was changed to Acler in 2015). They met while working as creative directors at two popular Adelaide fashion labels – C/Meo Collective and Finders Keepers – which are both manufactured by Adelaide fashion conglomerate Australian Fashion Labels and sold internationally.
The label was picked up in its first season by Australia’s largest department store chain, Myer, and is now stocked in 200 stores, including Moda Operandi and Shopbop.
Acler received a big publicity boost in September when Beyoncé Instagrammed no less than eight images of herself wearing its copper-coloured off-the-shoulder “Fyffe Bodice” en route to a Broadway musical.
In 2017, quirky Hawaiian shirt specialist Double Rainbouu was the new label every international buyer buzzed about in Sydney. Could Melbourne’s Client Liaison – formed by 1980s nostalgia pop duo Monte Morgan and Harvey Miller, who perform under the same name – follow suit?
Thanks to their big hair, massive shoulder pads and Miami Vice-worthy pastel power suits, fashion has always been part of Morgan and Miller’s shtick.
On May 16 they will make their runway debut, where they will unveil their Client Liaison Deluxe Line of womenswear, menswear and accessories which they are calling “executive relaxation for leisure enthusiasts”. Available for pre-order off the runway, the collection will be sold through pop-up stores in Sydney and Melbourne in mid-June.
Potentially Australia’s answer to French-record-label-turned-fashion-house Maison Kitsuné, Client Liaison first delved into fashion merchandise in November 2016 via a capsule collection of men’s and women’s swimsuits and beach accessories. Timed to coincide with the release of its debut album Diplomatic Immunity, the collection reportedly sold out within a month.